The content in this page ("Sonthi finds it easier not to face the past" by Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

Sonthi finds it easier not to face the past

So how many of you, dear readers, are seriously attempting to honour the recent request by 2006 coup-leader turned national-reconciliation-maker General Sonthi Boonyaratglin to forget half a decade of political conflict and move on?

This writer for one finds it rather disturbing, because Thai society does not yet know if there was any mastermind behind the September 19, 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra. Sonthi is essentially asking all of us to forget the past, which is still shrouded in mystery. He vowed to reveal all after he's dead through a book he is writing. But if for some reason he fails to do so, will we need to contact a "medium" to remind him of his promise in the afterworld?

The truth may be bitter and complicated, but how can society learn from its mistakes and become mature if it cannot confront its past?

Some aspects of the past - such as the October 6, 1976 massacre of left-wing students at Thammasat University and Sanam Luang by an ultra-royalist mob - are still shrouded in mystery, as Thai society has developed partial amnesia over them. Not surprisingly, no one was held responsible for the massacre and most Thais aren't sure what lesson to draw from it.

Many may also wonder if we will ever know the whole truth about the May 1992 uprising, as many passages of the fact-finding report on the incident have been kept from the public. The April-May 2010 clashes and suppression of red-shirts is another example. Will we ever really know the truth and bring those responsible for the deaths - possibly from both sides of the political divide - to justice?

Society needs a collective memory of the past. There may be varying versions of public memories, that is fine, but we can't keep on forgetting the past and repeating similar mistakes, over and over again.

To know and remember the past does not mean we have to dwell in the past and not be able to forgive. I am ready to forgive Sonthi if he apologises to the public for the coup he staged and expresses sincere contrition to those affected, especially relatives of the late taxi driver Nuamthong Praiwan. Nuamthong rammed his cab into an Army tank in a gesture of defiance before hanging himself in protest after being belittled by a senior member of the then military junta, the Council for National Security, which Sonthi headed.

Just days after Sonthi asked the public to forget the past and move on, rumours about yet another military coup were reported by the media. The situation is the clearest proof that a society which doesn't learn from its past, in this sense from the damaging belief that military coups can be good for democracy, are bound to risk repeating its mistakes.

A society that doesn't really know or remember its past is simply a lost society that doesn't know itself.

And if you think Sonthi, now an elected member of Parliament, has put the past behind him and is ready to move on - think again.

On the very day Sonthi publicly urged Thais to forget the troubled past and move on, he complained that he could still not wear a necktie in his preferred colour - red - because the anti-coup and pro-Thaksin movement have adopted the colour as an anti-coup symbol.

Apparently, the coup-leader turned peace-maker has yet to forget and overcome the weight of the political meaning of the colour red, which he unknowingly helped to create. The general is still stuck with the notion that red is a taboo colour for non-red-shirts. And while he tells millions of others to forget and move on, he is having difficulty following his own advice.



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